Executive Summary:

You can implement virtualization in your infrastructure with one of these free platforms. For hardware-based hypervisors, try products from Citrix, Microsoft, or VMware; for hosted virtualization solutions, you'll find options from Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, and VMware.


Virtualization is an area in IT that provides a lot of bang for the buck—all the more so if you implement virtualization using one of the many completely free virtualization platforms that are available. In this column, I'll tell you about ten free virtualization products, some of which can be used for testing and development while others are completely enterprise-ready server consolidation platforms.

10. Xen 3.4.0—Xen is a hypervisor-based virtualization product that supports x86 and x64 processors. Although Xen is best known in the Linux world, Xen 3.0 introduced support for running Windows virtual machines (VMs). Intel-VT or AMD-V support is required for Windows support. You can get Xen from www.xen.org/download.

9. Oracle VM—Not to be left out of the virtualization market, Oracle offers its Oracle VM product, which supports both 32-bit and 64-bit hosts and can run Windows Server OSs, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Red Hat Linux, and Oracle Enterprise Linux as guests. You'll find it at www.oracle.com/technologies/virtualization.

8. VMware Player—Although you might not realize it, VMware Player is a full-blown virtualization platform. It's based on the same code as VMware Workstation, but it's limited to running VMs; it can't be used to create them. There are Windows and Linux versions of VMware Player, which you can download from www.vmware.com/download/player.

7. Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2—Virtual Server 2005 R2 is Microsoft's server-oriented virtualization product. It’s a hosted virtualization solution, which means it needs a host OS, but it's still useful for running VMs on older systems. Virtual Server 2005 R2 runs on the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows Server 2003, Vista, and XP. Its Virtual Hard Disks (VHDs) are compatible with Hyper-V. You can download Virtual Server 2005 R2 from www.microsoft.com/windowsserversystem/virtualserver.

6. VMware Server 2—Like Microsoft's Virtual Server 2005, VMware Server is a hosted virtualization product. It's not hypervisor based, but unlike Virtual Server 2005, VMware Server runs on several hosts, including Windows Server 2000, Windows NT, and Linux. You can download VMware Server from www.vmware.com/products/server.

5. Microsoft Virtual PC 2007—Virtual PC 2007 is Microsoft's current desktop virtualization solution. It runs on the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Vista and XP. Like Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, it's a hosted virtualizations solution. Its VHDs are compatible with Virtual Server 2005 and Hyper-V. An upgraded version of Virtual PC will be included in Windows 7 for XP compatibility. You'll find Virtual PC at www.microsoft.com/windows/virtual-pc.

4. VirtualBox 3.0—A newcomer to the ranks of the virtualization market, Sun Microsystems' VirtualBox is a hosted virtualization offering. However, its host support makes it unique in this crowd. Versions of VirtualBox run on the Mac, Linux, and Solaris in addition to Windows OSs. VirtualBox supports both x86 and x64 hardware. Also, unlike most of the products in this list, VirtualBox supports virtual USB controllers. VirtualBox is found at www.virtualbox.org.

3. Citrix XenServer 5.5—Based on the open source Xen hypervisor, Citrix XenServer runs directly on the hardware like Hyper-V and ESX Server. XenServer requires an x64 processor with Intel-VT or AMD-V support. XenServer supports 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows Server OSs and the enterprise Linux distributions. Download the free version of XenServer from www.citrix.com/English/ps2/products/feature.asp?contentID=1686939.

2. Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008—Not to be confused with the Hyper-V that ships with Server 2008, Hyper-V Server 2008 is a standalone (and free) virtualization product from Microsoft. Hyper-V Server 2008 runs directly on the system hardware. It's fully capable of enterprise-level server consolidation. It requires an x64 processor with Intel-VT or AMD-V virtualization support. The upcoming Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 will support Live Migration. You can get Hyper-V Server 2008 from www.microsoft.com/hyper-v-server/en/us.

1. VMware ESXi 4.0—Using the same core hypervisor as the ESX Server that's standard in many enterprises, ESXi provides enterprise-level server consolidation. ESXi can be managed using VMware Infrastructure 3 or VMware vSphere, and it fully supports VMware VMotion. ESXi comes with a stripped-down service console, letting it fit into a minuscule 32KB download package. You can download ESXi from www.vmware.com/products/esxi.